At home and abroad, Bon Secours supports the troops

May 15, 2013

When serving with the Marines in Iraq, Navy corpsman Patrick Thornton endured withering heat and a yearning for home. Gift packages from coworkers back in Virginia kept his spirits strong.

"It made me realize there was an end to this — and a world to go back to," said Thornton, a surgical assistant at Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital in Richmond. "It did wonders for my morale."

Military families face challenges too. Tami Connolly, a medical coder who works from home for Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., was home alone with her young daughter when a hurricane wiped out her Internet service.

Usually, when communications go down, at-home workers report to the nearest hospital to complete their shifts. But Connolly's managers knew that her husband was deployed with the Air Force, and they told her to take the time off she needed.

"They were very understanding," Connolly said. "They get it."

In fact, an appreciation for the hardships and sacrifices faced by active duty military and their families runs deep in the culture of Bon Secours Virginia, parent to St. Mary's and Maryview. Last summer, the Families and Work Institute in New York honored the health system, which is part of Marriottsville, Md.-based Bon Secours Health System, with its Work Life Legacy Military Award. In 2010, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve gave the system its Patriot Award.

Military center
Bon Secours Virginia is based in Richmond, Va. And its market area takes in the nation's largest Navy base, an Air Force advanced fighter wing, several Army bases and other military installations.

In the Hampton Roads area, which encompasses Naval Station Norfolk, military personnel and civilian federal workers make up almost one-fifth of the workforce. Federal spending accounts for half of the local economy. Twenty percent of the area's population consists of current or former military personnel and their families.

All told, about 12,000 people work for Bon Secours Virginia, parent of the Bon Secours Hampton Roads System and the Bon Secours Richmond Health System. About 15 percent of the employees in three Hampton Roads system hospitals have direct connections to the military, as do 10 percent of the workforce in the four Richmond system hospitals, 95 miles to the west.

Jim Godwin Jr., vice president of human resources for Bon Secours Virginia, said those statistics make it "good business" to reach out to patients and employees with military connections. But Godwin said there is another compelling reason to help meet the needs of military families. "Veterans and people in the service make outstanding employees," he said. "They are motivated and are good at listening and executing directions. They have great discipline. When there's a meeting at 10 a.m., they are there at 10."

Through the efforts of Bon Secours Virginia, he said, "The word is out among service people that we are a good place to work."

Benefits of service
Godwin said Bon Secours Virginia cultivates that reputation by actively recruiting veterans and spouses of service personnel, and by providing more than the law requires of employers with respect to military personnel called into active duty, or spouses of active duty personnel. He said the system also works to show appreciation with special tributes for veterans, employee sessions to prepare care packages for co-workers overseas and by throwing welcome-home parties when employees return.

Thornton, 38, joined the Navy in 1995 and became a corpsman, or medic, assigned to the Marine Corps. He has worked in the operating room at St. Mary's in Richmond for eight years and remains in the Navy Reserve, which dispatched him to Iraq in 2009.

Thornton said the hospital covered the difference between his regular wages and lower military pay, kept his wife and daughter on the hospital insurance plan and gave him his day shift back when he returned a year later. And there were the regular care packages, including letters written by children at the employees' on-site day-care center, and a party when he got home.

"The support was incredible," he said. "It showed that what I was doing was important, and it made me want to stay working at St. Mary's."

Thornton's military specialty transferred easily to the hospital operating room. Godwin said Bon Secours Virginia hires many veterans who were trained in health care and information systems. And, even when a veteran's skill set doesn't have a direct application in a hospital, many times a little additional schooling can bridge that gap.

Morale building
Godwin said hospitals that want to hire veterans and service personnel should establish affinity groups of military-related employees to learn about their needs and skills. He said Bon Secours Virginia sends representatives to military job fairs, advertises in military publications and has a training program for its managers to work with veterans and assist employees returning from active duty.

Godwin said the health system also employs counselors who assist the families of employees who are called to active military duty. It keeps their families on the health plan and in the employee child-care services during the active-duty assignments.

Connolly, 44, said she believes the hospital system values both her work and that of her husband, who works at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton. That is especially comforting, she said, because her husband is due for a one-year deployment to Greenland beginning later this year.

"They honor what my husband does and are very accommodating to me because he is in the military," she said. "I find that respectful. I have worked for other hospitals that don't think to do those things."

Godwin turned to a venerable military term to describe the motivation: "It makes our employees feel more engaged, more part of a family. And it is very good for their morale."


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.